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FLX Politics: Local lame duck lessons after Election Day

The election season is officially over.

Since Tuesday, there has been a lot of debate around this concept called “transition of power.” President Barack Obama praised its importance and said that he would do everything in his power to ensure that President-elect Donald Trump is set up for success in January.

We’ve all heard the phrase “lame duck.” That awful period where our already slow, and sometimes cumbersome government — slows down even more. It’s less-discussed in local politics, but undoubtedly plays just as much of a role — when push comes to shove.

In Seneca Falls two defeated board members are leading a charge on legislation, which was arguably one of the biggest, if not the absolute biggest item of debate during the election.

That legislation, which many thought would disappear into the sunset after Democrats Annette Lutz and Mary Sarratori were defeated by Republicans Lou Ferrara and Thomas Ruzicka. It was proposed Local Law No. 7, which was otherwise known as the Town of Seneca Falls Waste Disposal Law. Signs remain peppered across lawns and along roadways in support and opposition of the legislation.

Supporters say the local law would have provided a firm, concrete support to a host agreement to ensure the closure of Seneca Meadows, while simultaneously ensuring that future landfilling operations could not start in Seneca Falls.

Opponents, which included Seneca Meadows Landfill, say the local law would impact their ability to continue operation. Some even went as far as to say that the local law would force the ‘premature closure’ of Seneca Meadows. Supporters argued that point, but ultimately, the proposed Local Law No. 7 never materialized.

Two public hearings were scheduled. Neither happened.

Fast-forward through the rest of the summer, a heated campaign for Town Council, and even past Election Day. Lutz was defeated by 185 votes, while Sarratori was defeated by 351, according to the Seneca County Board of Elections.

Sarratori captured 1,572 votes to Ferrara’s 1,923. While Lutz captured 1,613 to Ruzicka’s 1,798. While Lutz and Sarratori lost the election they appeared to be inspired by that defeat.

Last Thursday, Lutz introduced a resolution at a special meeting of the Seneca Falls Town Board. That resolution introduced Local Law No. 3, which is an updated version of the Seneca Falls Waste Disposal Law.

This was a point heavily debated at that session. Undoubtedly, it will be debated right up until the public hearing, which was scheduled for November 30th by a 3-2 count. Dave DeLelys was the third council member to vote for the public hearing.

What is the role of a public servant after they lose an election?

Their judgment will be questioned in the coming weeks for proposing the local law. That judgment will be questioned on a multitude of fronts. However, the bigger question here regards an unwritten rule in politics — that the loser should simply concede the rest of their term, albeit a month-and-change — serving as a placeholder.

If this is something to be considered seriously — should those “losers” on a board — even have the ‘right’ to vote? Should they be forced to abstain from every vote, every decision — big and small — until the end of their term? If not, should transition periods be wiped off the map — giving way to instant-starts for the winning candidates in an election?

These are all fundamental questions about our Democratic system. Calling one of these into question, would seem to tip the entire system on it’s head, which means that we’re left with the status-quo. The system exists to ensure balance.

Living with that system means that those serving on a board — at any point during their term — can act as they feel best represents their constituents. In Seneca Falls, the three board members who voted to schedule a public hearing — felt they were speaking for a large volume of constituents.

Since there was no actual referendum on the ballot regarding Seneca Meadows or landfilling in the Finger Lakes — these two Town Council races were viewed as an equivalent. If the Republican candidates were pro-landfill, as has been argued, they defeated the anti-landfill candidates by a count of 3,721 to 3,185.

A margin of 536 votes.

NOTE: There were only 3,675 ballots cast in Seneca Falls, but the above figure takes a vote-by-vote count on the two races as a whole.

Those numbers show that roughly 46 percent of voters felt compelled enough by the primarily landfill-related issues that drove this race — to vote for Lutz and Sarratori.

A sizable portion of the overall turnout.

During an election cycle where people wanted government to “stop getting in the way,” it seems awfully contradictory to suggest that two officials serving on a government board should “quit doing their job.”

As taxpayers we should not only desire for, but encourage our elected officials to work and give 100 percent until the moment their term closes. Win or lose — our Democratic system demands it. The ‘lame duck’ problem is one that has muddied our political system — at the national, regional, and even local level for years. An election loss should not mean our Democracy becomes ineffective.

In January, these newly elected officials from across the Finger Lakes — who participated in a total of 103 races we covered here at FingerLakes1.com — will have an opportunity to create their own legacy in the communities they represent.

Let’s not forget: Win or lose, every candidate running for office, or holding public office — cares deeply about their community.

FLX Politics is a weekly feature by Josh Durso, which takes a critical look at policy and government in the Finger Lakes. He is the Lead News Editor at FingerLakes1.com and can be reached at josh@fingerlakes1.com.

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